In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
These are the opening words of the Bible. In his farewell address Christ proclaimed to his disciples: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”. As these heavens (or rooms) are unknown to us, it seems as though we have but two worlds to relate to – the physical and the spiritual; the earthly and the heavenly (from this point of view it is justified to change the plural ‘heavens’, into the singular ‘heaven’, as has been the case in some editions).
Another interpretation, which may be associated with mystical traditions poses that the heavens represent various levels of human consciousness – planes that may be reached even within this earthly existence. The seven heavens that the Prophet Muhammad traversed are then essentially spiritual states, as we also find in the Sufi tradition where seven valleys or cities mark the stages of the path of the seeker. In this interpretation, the heavens are essentially within the soul of man.
But there is yet another way to understand these introductory words. The Earth, according to this view is a symbol for humankind, while the heavens represent the many religious dispensations that have been present throughout human history. The word ‘beginning’ has in this context no particular historical meaning but speaks of an archetypal beginning that is ever recurring. In the Book of Revelation we read: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” The sky is also referred to as Jerusalem – the holy city – which renews itself every time a new book of laws is revealed. When a prophet appears to repeal old laws and enact new ones, this can be likened to the renewal of the sky, whereas the earth (civilization) renews itself when it is put under the influence of a new religious order – an order that can be identified as a spiritually revitalizing movement. Again, when Isaiah says “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth”, it may be understood that he appeals to the clergy and the masses. According to this interpretation, the opening words of the Bible are not to be understood as the beginning of a chain of events, but rather as a title. As some Jewish interpreters have come to understand the Hebrew text, the word bereshit (in the beginning) can be read as a temporal statement and any of the following lines, as the main clause.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.
This is the primordial state. The Earth is spiritually desolate – the people are living in the darkness of ignorance and delusion. The water covering the earth is the symbol of the state of chaos where civilization is dissolved, and indeed, is waiting to be born anew. The word deep – in Hebrew tehom – can be traced to the Sumerian word tiamat, which is also the name of the primordial beast that appears in the Babylonian creation story and which is known by the name Leviathan in the Bible. All in all, what is described here may be termed “a state where spiritual values have been dissolved”.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
The Hebrew word for spirit (ruwach) also means wind. “…he makes His messengers winds…” we read in Psalms. This may be the foreboding spirit, manifested in the heralds that appear just before a divine messenger steps out of obscurity and becomes manifest to the world. Before the appearance of Christ, John the Baptist and the Essenes embody this wind, but it is a wind that stirs in many a tree and recurs throughout history in the darkest of times. Note that the Spirit of God is never part of the dark water (the forces of chaos) – it is separated from it, it moves over it. The Jews have interpreted this spirit, this wind of God, as an everlasting covenant – an assurance that God’s grace never leaves the people.
And God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
In the first day the word light occurs five times (in row 3,4 & 5), and this, according to Jewish tradition symbolizes the five books of Moses. As the light is separated from darkness, so is the Torah distinguishing right from wrong, and it leads the Israelites out of the oppression of night – into a new day. As Moses was the one prophet given the mission to reveal the law of the Torah, this light is also referring to him as the divine messenger – the source of enlightenment.
If we consider the properties of light, we find a symbolism that suggest a revitalizing, life-giving force. This divine light, this principle is also to be found with the Greek Stoics, expressed in the concept of logos (word). In the first verse of The Gospel of John the two terms light and word are tied together; “…the Word was God… In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” and Christ declares; “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”. The term logos was incorporated into Jewish philosophy only during the lifetime of Christ, but the earlier concept of ‘light’ filled the same function. We can thus see how The New Testament beautifully unites Jewish and Greek philosophy.
When the word light occurs in holy scriptures, it is very rarely profane light that it refers to, but to concepts such as knowledge, life, justice, grace and salvation. Without light there is darkness, destruction and chaos, for light is the premise of spiritual life. At the darkest of times – that is when the light returns. As it dawns, we at first do not see the sun at all, even though the sky is brightening. Once the sun appears above the horizon it climbs slowly, gently allowing the earth to adapt to the light of the new day, and as it rises above the tree tops, the land is bathing in its light and heat. As the flower lovingly turns towards the sun, so does the believer love that inner light, when its gentle rays thaws the frozen earth of the heart. It is this light that manifests itself in every good action, in service to humanity, in truthfulness, compassion, justice, and in the arts and sciences that are begotten of man’s love for truth. Such is the light of religion.
–› Day Two
Notes and references:
5 Rapaport, Tales and Maxims from The Midrash, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co 1907, page 59 ; sacred-texts.com. There is consensus among scholars that the Torah was not divided into books and chapters before 300 bc when it was translated into Greek (known as the Septuagint). The Six Days of Creation was written some 200 years earlier. This however does not rule out the possibility that The Five Books of Moses was already grounded in the oral tradition.
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